Heart problems are more common in older dogs and cats with other medical issues. But animals may need cardiac examination for problems including:
- • heart murmurs
- • irregular heartbeats
- • respiratory complaints
- • weakness or fainting
A cardiac examination is also often requested as part of the pre-anaesthetic assessment before pets are admitted to other services (e.g. internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology).
The SASH Cardiology service is run by Dr Rita Singh, a passionate and dedicated specialist committed to providing up-to-date care for animals with heart disease. While Dr Singh treats dogs and cats most of the time, she has also examined horses, alpacas, birds, reptiles, small mammals and even zoo animals.
Most animals can be evaluated using non-invasive examination methods, but Dr Singh also offers minimally invasive (catheter-based) interventions for certain congenital heart defects. Cardiac pacemakers can also be implanted in dogs with abnormally slow heart rates.
The Diagnostics and Procedures in Cardiology
ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY (CARDIAC ULTRASOUND)
An echocardiogram is the main non-invasive technique to allow cardiologists to examine your pet’s heart. Not only does it come with no discomfort, but dogs and cats only have to lie on a padded table, with none or just a little sedation, for the examination. The cardiac ultrasound means the vet can see a sonar image of the heart and adjacent large blood vessels.
Also known as an ECG, a resting electrocardiogram records the electrical activity of the heart. It allows vets to identify rapid, slow, or irregular heart rates such as abnormal beats (arrhythmias) or abnormally conducted beats (heart block, bundle branch block).
An ECG can also be used to record the electrical activity of the heart for 24 to 72 hours. It’s necessary for some pets whose symptoms don’t all occur at the time, or to look at how severe or often the abnormal heart beat occurs. It’s called a continuous ambulatory ECG recorder (or Holter monitor) and is attached to the animal via chest electrodes, with the pet sent home carrying the system in a vest. When the recording has been made, you just need to return the vest and recorder back to SASH. The ECG is stored on a small memory card, which is transferred to a computer for analysis. From there, the cardiologist will look at the entire ECG and discuss treatments.
CARDIAC CATHETERISATION AND INTERVENTION
Sometimes more invasive procedures may be required for both diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. When this happens, catheters are inserted into blood vessels of anesthetised pets and are guided through the heart using fluoroscopic radiography. Most animals have this procedure for one of 3 common procedures:
- 1. Closure of congenital defects
- 2. Balloon dilation of obstructive defects
- 3. Cardiac pacemaker implantation for slow heart rate